Archive for the 'Mammals' Category



My customers, particularly those that visit Scotland with me, often ask about Mountain Hares and Hen Harriers. Both species are in conflict with human occupation. Over the many years I’ve been visiting the Highlands I’ve seen the numbers of both decline dramatically. Both species occupy the same moorland habitat as Red Grouse. In the past a great deal of effort has been put into eliminating any threat to Red Grouse shoots; money is the driving factor. Profits from Grouse shoots can be substantial.

Hen Harriers will take the grouse. Mountain Hares help spread a tick which will carry a virus that can have detrimental effects on grouse numbers.

It’s always been illegal to shoot Harriers and it’s now illegal in Scotland to shoot Mountain Hares without a licence. However it still happens.

Even the Game & Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) admit “Despite evidence that illegal killing does occur, and at a large enough scale to significantly impact numbers of some birds of prey….”

They however caveat the situation by further stating “… the extent to which they are illegally killed and the number remaining (to determine the accuracy of the claim that all predators are killed) is not known.”

I don’t think I’ve ever explored an organisations website that is so full of crap. Take a look for yourself There’s even a separate site headed ‘What the science says – the UK’s conservation fact checking resource’ run by the GWCT that purports to be based on science fact. However, it defends at all costs, what we’ll call ‘game farming’.

Even the recent article on Capercaillie majors on the cause of the decline in this rather special bird as the increase in Pine Marten numbers and yet even within the article they state ‘Recently modelled data suggest that in the absence of deer fencing, capercaillie numbers would be 16% higher and the risk of extinction within the next 50 years would fall from 95% to just 3%’.

It’s worth pointing out these two species have developed alongside one another for millennia.

Very poorly written articles that don’t conclude correctly based on the ‘evidence’ they present.


Oh Deer!

Red Deer at Minsmere often pop out of the reedbed quite unexpectedly. A small party of four trotted by us the other day as we waited for bittern to fly-up. I guess I might sound a bit elitist if I say I was quite disappointed to hear the crowd in the rather full hide call them ‘Roe’ or ‘Fallow’; even ‘Muntjac’ was called more than once.

We all have to learn. We all make mistakes. God I’ve made a few howlers in my time, but if someone from the other side of the world who has only lived here in the UK three years can put a name to the beasts surely it’s not too much to ask someone who has lived here all their life to know a little about the wildlife they might encounter? Do you think this is why we have such a decimated ecosystem in the UK … because the general public just don’t know or care enough to know what they have around them?


“Pigs in Space”

I have seen Wild Boar in Europe and also Asia but have never encountered them here in the UK.

Tania and I planned and booked a weekend away to the Forest of Dean to see and photograph boar long before the King decided on the date of his investiture. This worked in our favour. The area was relatively quiet. The rain only accentuated the lack of people.

Although the signs of Wild Boar digging are literally everywhere in the forest, getting a glimpse of them doesn’t reflect this. Getting a decent photograph is hard.

They don’t find favour with many of the locals. These are persecuted animals and are therefore quite shy. They can definitely be almost ethereal. Wild Boar were hunted to extinction in the UK during the 13th century. Their meat was and still is prized and were therefore farmed. Escapes led to several areas within England, Wales and Scotland having reintroduced populations. The densest is said to be in the Forest of Dean. What is not widely realised is they do a damn good job of regenerating the forest. Rooting for tubers and roots they form ideal seedbeds which help in tree and plant regeneration. They form wallows beloved of dragonflies and other insects. Boars provide vital disturbance to the ground which is crucial in maximising species richness and diversity. Although if they were turning over my lawn, that fact might pale into insignificance. So I guess negative attitude to them is perhaps understandable. They have no natural predator here (roll on a wolf reintroduction programme?) numbers can and have in the past risen unchecked; so a culling regime is required.

Culling has made boar wary. Naturally. Who wouldn’t skuttle into the undergrowth at the first glimpse of a raised gun. We had to work hard to find the newest routing and get ahead of foraging herds. The piglets were much less wary than the adults, but were still a challenge.


Stoately Wonderful

Sitting in the hide last week we watched the antics of a couple of Stoats. The lady next to me in the hide expressed how cute they were. I said to her that pound for pound they are probably our fiercest predators. Her retort made me smile when she said ‘it could hardly take down a Zebra!’ Maybe not but I did once see one take an adult Marmot in the French Alps, weighing in at 5 to 7kg, and then carry it off over a drystone wall. They are truly powerful little mustelids.

As we watched last week I was quite surprised when one emerged from the water, having swum out of the reedbed. When I’ve watched them around water previously they certainly didn’t like getting their feet wet.

The lady was absolutely right they are cute!


As dark as night

The tour South to Essex yesterday was a little wetter than expected. That neither put my wonderful customers off … or the birds.

You would have thought that any decent Nightingale would stick to what it says in the book and be no more than ‘crepuscular’ and ‘secretive’. However, we had one individual that was obviously keen to broadcast his presence and gave us some incredible sightings way off the spectrum for this denizen of the dark.

All the hirundines were back in good number as were the warblers. A few Little Ringed Plovers were also kicking about; newly arrived and very active as was a Common Sandpiper announcing it’s presence well before it landed in front of the hide. Calling Whimbrel heading North were a treat as we ended the day. However perhaps the best part, for me at least, was the sighting we had of two Harbour Porpoise heading down the River Colne … and I can guarantee they didn’t mind the rain at all! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯


Fools dancing before an abyss.

It dawned on me quite early in my life that the way to protect the wildlife and birds in an area is to protect the area itself. Protecting the environment is key to having a safe home and area for creatures to live and breed. It’s not bloody rocket science is it? Cut down a forest for agriculture and everything in the forest will die or have to move elsewhere. Concrete and tarmac over a wild area and the insects that are key to supporting our wildlife will die or move on. Insect life supports everything above it like a Jenga tower. Pull out too many bricks and the whole lots clatters downward. The problem is we are running out of areas for our creatures to move to and we are loosing wildlife habitat and consequently our wildlife at a rate of knots.

Those of you that live locally will know of the area that is just to the West of Cromer on the South side of the A149 coast road. A wild piece of land full of bushes and scrub, often referred to as the site of the old zoo; not only important for breeding birds but also for migrants. Scrub is such an important habitat. It is not waste land. It’s essential habitat. I’ve seen Ring Ousel here, Red backed Shrike, Citrine Wagtail, Barred Warbler as well as commoner migrants. Those of you that have lived here longer than I will know of more rarities found here on migration. Well no more!

The area has been cleared. It’s gone. bulldozed and cut away to nothing. Some, self-important, pound greedy, cretin of an imbecile, has ordered the whole area to be cleared. We are in the middle of a biodiversity crisis and some idiot did this.

A few years ago I was just one of the individuals that objected to a building development on the land. For all the reasons outlined above, it did not seem like a good idea. Well take away all the ideal habitat and all the reasons to object are swept aside. Ruthless.

It was friend Andy (his photo below) that told me of the clearance. I went that morning to take a look. I was so so dejected. When will people understand that we are sawing away at the branch of the tree we are sat on. Bloody fools. Complete and utter … BLOODY FOOLS!

Photo credit: Andy Hale


Happy New Year

Well, the end of 22 is just about upon us and 2023 is about to open its doors. It’s been a more relaxed year here on the North Norfolk coast with restrictions fading into memory and life returning to somewhat like normal.

Throughout 2022 there have been several low points. Leaving Scillies in October the day after the Blackburnian Warbler turned up was one. Visiting Manchester and seeing the amount of litter both in the city centre and surrounding countryside was another; seeing such disregard for the environment was not just disappointing, but stomach churning.

Thankfully there have been some outstanding high points; including several ‘firsts’ for me. Eleonora’s Falcon, Cape Gull, Glanville Fritillary and Late Spider Orchid being a few examples.

Episodes with Broomrape, Bee Eaters and Little Buntings were entertaining and far reaching.

Despite foreign travel being shunned by Tania and me until next year we’ve had a number of trips here at home and tours have been UK wide. Scotland appeared on the agenda four times with Dumfriesshire, Sutherland and the Spey Valley twice. Scillies was visited twice with Spring and Autumn breaks. There were also tours to Knepp in West Sussex and the East coast including the Farne Islands. A very successful trip to Cumbria was enjoyed for its butterflies and dragonflies. We had a personal trip to the Isle of Wight which was very productive. A short trip to Kent with Tania and Tony took some topping; the range of Orchids we found coupled with time watching an Eleonora’s Falcon would take some beating. By a hair’s breadth however my moment of the year was in October on the island of Tresco. The day I spent with Tania photographing a Swainson’s Thrush was for me just the biz!

It’s been a long time since I have seen this diminutive, subtly marked species, so well. Seeing American Thrushes in the Americas is wonderful. Seeing one in the UK is always a thrill; but actually spending an extended period of time with one at close range was just exhilarating.

We are both looking forward to the New Year and what it brings, and hope you are too. Happy New Year from us both.



A visit to the Northern Highlands is just not the same without a sighting of a Pine Marten. We saw two a couple of weeks ago in Scotland including this beautiful female.


Why on earth is this happening?

Take a read. You may be as horrified as I am. Why inoculated Badgers may be being shot is beyond my comprehension.



I was working on the laptop when the mobile rang. I knew it was Tania immediately because I could hear her talking outside through the open window. She beckoned me outside to see a ‘mouse’.

She had actually found a very young Short tailed Field Vole; it was happily feeding on crumbled muesli bar casually being sprinkled around it by my entranced wife. I could tell by the expression on its furry little face that it thought all its Christmases had come at once. Anyways we relocated it off the tarmac road onto the grass border to give it a little cover from the ever-present Herring Gulls.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Jun 2023


%d bloggers like this: